TEMPTATIONS

Temptations both secular and religious throw their sticky nets over a Catholic writer in this predictable but entertaining first novel by veteran journalist Wilkes (In Mysterious Ways, 1990; Merton by Those Who Knew Him Best, 1984; etc.). Joseph dwells in a spiritual vacuum; literary cocktail parties and casual sex no longer satisfy his needs. Casting about for new writing projects, he becomes intrigued by the Cistercian monastery of Our Lady of New Citeaux (the Order to which Thomas Merton belonged). Joseph's agent, who talks in an incessant borscht-belt shtick (Wilkes's most successful comic invention), has Big Plans for Joseph's project (``Who's going to play you? Nolte, he can do serious....We're going for a feature on this one''). But once at the monastery, Joseph's life turns topsy-turvy. The beauty of the cloisters amazes him. An ex-Catholic siren draws him into her bed. Above all, he encounters Father Columban, the monastery's saintly leader, who won't let Joseph settle for less than everything (``Nothing is more worthwhile,'' insists the monk, ``than the pursuit of God''). Joseph's inner life blossoms, only to be followed by deeper angst. Meanwhile, a mystery unfolds as anonymous notes lead the writer to three men, all once would-be monks, who cast their shadows on the monastery: one is now a bitter pro-choice lawyer, another insane, the third a suicide—or was it murder? And who is sending those damning notes? Joseph's confusion reaches biblical proportions before things come to full flame, literally and figuratively, as arson strikes the monastery and Fr. Columban sets fire to Joseph's soul. To no one's surprise, least of all the reader's, at tale's end Joseph prepares to enter New Citeaux for good. Mildly tempting literary fare: a seriocomic, middle-aged-man-comes-of-age tale, with amusing but overdrawn characters, in which little happens before the overbaked conclusion. But good fun anyway, and effective recruitment for the monastic life.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-394-57585-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1992

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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